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Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014

Making 'Evita' Come Alive

Short run was long on musical drama

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The national touring company of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical drama Evita, at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in a disappointingly short run, turned in an exhilarating performance on opening night. With its riveting score ripe with musical drama and equally compelling lyrics, the audience was immediately enthralled by the dramatic opening funeral sequence. Some viewers may even have experienced a nostalgic reminder of what musical theater used to be before the age of rock.

The stunning choreography by Rob Ashford and David Chase’s creative dance routines provided a thrilling, eye-catching background for the more intimate musical ensembles, adding a momentum that keep the dramatic sequences on target. The score itself remains fresh and timeless.

Among the highlights were Josh Young’s pugnacious Che and Sean McLaughlin’s authoritative Juan Perón. Equally strong voiced was Christopher Johnstone as Eva’s first mentor, Magaldi. As Eva Perón, Caroline Bowman was a real trooper in a demanding role, but her approach seemed too extroverted and coolly aggressive to embody the more fragile, perhaps less tangible qualities that made the real Eva so charismatic and loved. Her signature number, “Don’t cry for me, Argentina,” was statuesque, but lacked the warmth of real conviction. Her delivery was too studied.

Yet, if one does not look closely at the aesthetic fine points, Evita was among the most vivid, well-orchestrated touring productions to hit Milwaukee in some time.